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THOM BARKER: Trying to remember what to remember

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Contributed

North Coast Perspective

One of the big mistakes we humans make is looking at identifiable groups of people as monolithic.

We then sometimes compound that mistake by seeking to speak for those groups.

In the lead up to Remembrance Day, I have seen multiple social media posts conflating Christmas decorations/sales/advertising with disrespect for veterans.

In recent years—the beginning of which roughly corresponds to the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 — “supporting the troops” has taken on a kind of unsettling urgency, particularly in the United States, but also in Canada. A professional sporting event, for example, cannot go by anymore in North America without some kind of tribute to a veteran, or serving member, or the military in general, it seems.

Our southern neighbours have taken it to the extreme, as they do with just about everything. The protracted and ongoing controversy over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem continues to be used for hyper-partisan political purposes, as an example. This is despite the fact the intention of that protest is to call attention to something completely unrelated to veterans or serving troops.

At the risk of appearing to speak for veterans, the real disrespect here is in treating them as a group and not as the individuals they are.

In this environment, it is extremely difficult to push back against respect for veterans memes without coming across as not supporting the troops.

I personally think Nov. 11 is too early to start celebrating Christmas, but if one is so inclined, I honestly do not get the connection with disrespect for veterans.

There are veterans, of course, who are offended by Christmas decorations going up prior to their big day. There are also those who are not. This is clear from their own responses to the alleged disrespect.

The problem with attributing anything to a large identifiable group is that membership within the group is defined by a specific commonality, while the individual members are usually characterized by diversity that reflects the diversity of the population at large.

At the risk of appearing to speak for veterans, the real disrespect here is in treating them as a group and not as the individuals they are.

On Remembrance Day, we recognize the sacrifices of those who served, in particular, in the two World Wars, but also in Korea and every conflict Canada has been involved in since, as well as, current members.

Among those people were, and are, socialists, liberals and conservatives; Christians, atheists and Muslims; men and women; whites, blacks and Indigenous people; heterosexuals, gays and transgendered people; Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans; classical music enthusiasts and metal heads.

Yet here we are, the world is a very different place today, one in which personal liberty is at unprecedented levels, but also one in which there is a dangerous political movement afoot that seeks to take the resolution of controversial issues out of the hands of democratic institutions and put it into the hands of authoritarians disguised as populists.

In times of crisis, groups of diverse individuals come together for common purposes, as veterans did in the Second World War to defeat fascism and preserve our freedom to put up Christmas decorations whenever the hell we want to and to re-post Facebook memes inappropriately lumping them together as a monolithic group.

And even that is a trite generalization that bears scrutiny because they joined up for many different reasons and there are those, past and present, who certainly did not fight for and would like to curtail some of the freedoms we currently enjoy as a society, just as there are non-military persons who are working toward doing so. There are those who disagree with abortion or gay marriage or legal marijuana or assisted death, as examples. In fact, many of the people who fought in the great wars would not even have been able to envision a world in which some of our current freedoms were even on the table.

Yet here we are, the world is a very different place today, one in which personal liberty is at unprecedented levels, but also one in which there is a dangerous political movement afoot that seeks to take the resolution of controversial issues out of the hands of democratic institutions and put it into the hands of authoritarians disguised as populists.

As we commemorate Remembrance Day this year and honour our veterans, as we should, we would do well to also remember we are all members of a big group called Canadians that is anything but monolithic and focus on what binds us together rather than what drives us apart.

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